Maybe you’re a bit of “the family DJ,” providing the music at family get togethers or for parties with friends. Or, maybe you just love creating high quality music by recording and mixing. What do I need, you may be wondering, to record/mix music like a pro from home or from anywhere?
Obviously, there are skills to acquire and tips to follow for creating quality music, and you’ll need a computer with reasonable speed and sound quality (but almost any computer can get you started and you probably already have one.)
Here, we will look at 8 key tools you should acquire to enable and enhance mixing/recording your music from home:
1. Studio Quality Headphones
One of the most essential pieces of equipment for recording at home is a pair of top-quality headphones. You need at least one pair to get started, but you’ll soon likely want 2 or 3 pairs for variety and for back-up.
Closed-back headphones are a must when first starting out recording, but open-back headphones are also important. The strength of the former is sound isolation, while that of the latter is sound quality. (Check out this studio headphones buying guide for in-depth information on top brands and styles of studio headphones.)
One last word, be sure to buy an extension cable unless your headphones have extra-long cables to begin with. And go top-quality on the extension cables, because the lower-tier ones often have signal problems.
2. A DAW-Audio Interface Combo
Digital audio workstation (DAW) software will be essential for recording, mixing, and editing music on your computer. And an audio interface will be necessary to connect your computer to the rest of your music equipment.
You can buy these two essentials separately, but if you do, you’ll probably pay more. The best strategy is to buy a combo DAW-audio interface package, which not only saves you money but guarantees you won’t have compatibility problems.
3. Ear Training Software
Admittedly, ear training software is not typically on a list of essential sound equipment; but there is good reason to think maybe it should be. Developing a sound technician’s ear is not automatic or easy, and it’s not even the same, really, as having a musician’s ear.
Investing in ear training software from day one will help you attune your ears to recognize band-frequencies and other technical sound quality descriptors, which will ultimately improve the quality of your output.
4. Studio-quality Monitors
Studio “monitors,” which are really speakers, are the traditional way to mix music; and you really should consider adding some studio (aka “nearfield”) monitors to your mixing equipment down the road, even if you start out using only open-back headphones.
Studio monitors provide you with a more “neutral” sound to use as an objective standard in evaluating your mix than do “enhanced” consumer speakers, so it really helps you create a better final product.
You’ll eventually discover, if you don’t already know it, that there are numerous types of microphones specially designed to do a better job collecting different types of sound. To a large extent, they are distinguished by which type of musical instruments they work best with.
If you will be recording, choose one or two good microphones based on which type of instruments you use most. Vocals will do well with a large-diaphragm condenser microphone. A small-diaphragm condenser mic, on the other hand, is better with guitar and piano music. And there are other mics built with drums and percussions in mind, so take time to explore your options.
6. Mic Stands
This may seem like an unnecessary extra to some or like something you can afford to “go cheap” on, but in reality, a good mic stand is a huge plus to your home studio. We can be brief here, but the number one factor to insist on is stability. Next, consider how easy the stand is to adjust and move and whether it’s metal and built to successfully avoid affecting the sound quality.
7. XLR Cables
One thing easily overlooked but that is very important for your recording and mixing efforts is high quality, fully compatible cables. Your microphone, studio monitors, and audio interface all need quality cables to function at their best.
For starters, get a longer (25 foot) XLR cable for your microphone and two shorter (6 foot) cables for your speakers. This setup works pretty well in a small ten by ten studio.
Also, be sure your audio interface takes XLR cables before you buy it or, at least, before you buy cables for it only to discover it has no XLR connectors!
8. Pop Filters
A pop filter is not a 100% essential piece of recording equipment, but many beginners feel they simply must have one, and of course, they are a great tool since they filter out disruptive “pops” before they “get into” your microphone.
Pops consist of low-frequency air blasts, normally occurring with the pronunciation of the P and B sounds. It’s a completely natural phenomenon with these letters (called bilabial plosives in linguistic talk). Note that the similarity between the words “plosive” and “explosive” is not accident. It’s definitely not something you want in your recording.
Prioritizing Costs When Setting Up a Studio
By now you may be thinking, “That’s a lot of expensive equipment. How can I afford it all?” The answer is that you can start out by buying the bare essentials, and then work your way up to “fully equipped status” as soon as possible. Plus, you can find deals on top-tier equipment and settle for adequate if not best-on-market where you have to and it won’t affect music quality much.
But, what are the most important tools that you want the very best of and without delay? Probably, your studio headphones, microphones-with-stand, and DAW-audio interface combo are top priority at first. You really can’t delay or compromise on good XLR cables, either.
Adding studio monitors and ear training software is a good next step. And pop filters can then be added last. And finally, you should upgrade your computer to one with high sound quality and high speed; but again, that can often be delayed since most people already have an adequate computer to use in the meantime.